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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

MEISHAN                                    15

catered the city from the south and went up the clean stone pavements
into the heart of the city.

It was not a very big town, but it was comfortable for a place of
residence. A poet of the twelfth century reported that the streets were
'kept very clean and that Meishan was famous for its lotus flowers in
May and June. The cultivation of the lotus flower had grown into an
industry, for dealers from the neighbouring cities obtained their lotus
flowers from this place. As one went up the streets, one passed many
ponds on the roadside covered with these flowers, whose fragrance filled
the air. At Shakuhang one came upon a middle-class home. Entering
the gate, one faced a green painted screen which shut out the view of
the interior from the passers-by. Behind the screen, a medium-sized
house with its courtyards appeared. Somewhere near the house stood a
tall pear tree, and there were ajx>nd and a vegetable patch. In the litde
family garden there was a great variety of flower and fruit trees, while
outside the wall stood a grove of hundreds of bamboo trees.

It was the year 1036, thirty years before the Battle of Hastings. On
December the nineteenth, a baby boy was crying and kicking in his
swaddling clothes. Since the first son had died in infancy, he was the
eldest son of the family. And here, as the baby was doing nothing in
particular or doing what every baby does, we may take time to look
around at the family. But first something must be said about this birth-
day, lest we but add to a certain confusion plaguing Chinese biographies
.abroad. A Chinese baby is "one year old" the moment he is born,
following the general pattern of everyone's desiring to reach venerable
age as quickly as possible. On the next New Year's Day, when all
people advance their age one year, he is "two years old". According
to the Chinese reckoning, therefore, as compared with Western reckon-
ing, a person always counts himself two years older before his birthday
ap.d one year older after that date in any given year. In this book, ages
are given according to the Western reckoning, without taking into con-
sideration a person's exact birthday. In the case of Su Tungpo, how-
ever, a little more exactness is required. As he was "one year old" the
day he was born, on December nineteenth, he would be "two years old"
already on the following New Year's Day—when he was hardly two
weeks old, actually. As his birthday came toward the very end of the
year, he was actually always two years younger than he would be
according to the Chinese reckoning.

The second thing to be said about the birthday is that he was born
under Scorpio. According to the poet himself, this explains why he ran
into so many troubles all his life and was a target of rumours, both
good and bad, which he did not deserve—a fate similar to that of Han
Yu, who was born under the same star, and who was also sentenced to
exile for his opinions.